If you take a look at the highest-grossing or most critically-acclaimed movies over the last decade, it'd be easy to assume that the romantic comedy is dead. While it's true that there are far fewer of them released than in earlier eras, the genre is alive and well. They don't perform well at the box office, and they often struggle to find audiences, but quality romantic comedies are still being made.
If you're anything like me, you grew up on a steady diet of on-screen romances. Pretty Woman is one the first movies I can ever remember watching. While that film doesn't particularly hold up, it's still a cultural touchstone some 30 years after its release.
I don't know if we'll be able to say the same for any romantic comedies released in the 2010s. Take a look at the five highest-grossing rom-coms of the last decade:
- Crazy Rich Asians - $174.5 million
- Silver Linings Playbook – $132 million
- Valentine’s Day – $110.4 million
- Trainwreck – $110.2 million
- Just Go With It – $103 million
I wouldn't even technically classify CRA as a rom-com because the central conflict isn't about falling in love. So many "women's movies" are unfairly lumped into this genre.
But I'm not here to argue semantics. None of the five listed above are especially memorable - can you quote anything from any of these films? Nothing is as iconic as the "Big mistake, huge!" scene from Pretty Woman. Nostalgia goggles are real, but I don't believe any of these films will be cemented in our collective psyche the way 90s rom-coms are. This may have more to do with the fracturing of a market that's more dedicated to niche interests than ever, but I digress.
In case you haven't kept up with modern rom-coms, or think they're all objectively terrible (as most modern rom-com trailers would have you believe!), here's a short list of romantic movies I've enjoyed recently:
I've been a fan of Maya Erskine since her days on Hulu's criminally-underrated Casual. My fandom grew to stan levels once I saw Pen15. She's great, this movie is great, and everyone should watch everything she does. The premise is simple: two friends agree to go to a summer full of weddings together. This film is incredibly well-written, showcasing the chemistry between the leads instead of forcing unnecessary plot contrivances on viewers.
This is my favorite kind of rom-com. Much like When Harry Met Sally, the appeal lies not in the will they/won't they back and forth, but in the pure charm of the couple. These are people you'd love to go on a double date with, who you'd quietly ship and cheer for when they get together. Too often, rom-coms center on the relationship itself, instead of the characters. The result is soulless (looking at you Long Shot). Plus One is a balm to every bad rom-com you've seen this decade.
This movie looks bad. The poster is bad. The trailer is bad. Frankly, the cast isn't all that appealing. That's probably why it took me six months to see it. I skipped over it on planes, flipped past it on HBO, and generally turned my nose up at it for too long.
Maybe my low expectations set me up for a better viewing experience. If you go in expecting this to be the second-coming of They Came Together (a movie I don't particularly love, but can appreciate for its commentary on the genre), you'll be disappointed. That said, I think Isn't it Romantic accomplishes many of the goals that I Feel Pretty tried and failed to reach.
The people who wrote this film have an obvious love for the genre. That can go a long way for me. While not everyone can appreciate a movie so lovingly dedicated to the rom-coms of yesterday, I enjoyed the winks and nods at movies like The Wedding Planner and 13 Going on 30. Is this among the best rom-coms this decade? No. But it's a charming, pleasant two hours that made me appreciate Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine a little more than I expected to.
This isn't technically a rom-com, but it's too charming not to merit a paragraph or two. While the working woman chick flick is not one of my favorite subgenres, Late Night is surprisingly watchable. Its handling of the romance subplot is what I especially want to highlight here: it is truly a SUBPLOT.
I went into this movie expecting the talk show premise to fall into the background of the main character's love story. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised (spoiler alert!) to find the male lead written out halfway through the film. He sucks and doesn't deserve on-screen closure, and so he doesn't. It's a choice that made me admire Mindy Kaling's writing in a way I hadn't before (I'm irritated with her perpetual need to play out her idealized romance with BJ Novak on screen).
Instead of relying on tired rom-com tropes, the film centers on the relationship between the two leads. Emma Thompson brings real empathy to a character that would never exist IRL (gotta love "liberal" Hollywood and its stubborn refusal to give women a chance on late night TV), and Mindy succeeds in a true bootstrap-fantasy (she gets her job writing for TV by entering a contest and earns the respect of her male colleagues by simply being good at her job). Still, their dynamic is fascinating and compulsively watchable. The men in this movie are truly unimportant, which is such a refreshing novelty in the chick flick genre.
Again, maybe you can chalk this one up to my low expectations, but this movie genuinely charmed me. My overall take? PUT EMMA THOMPSON IN MORE THINGS.
I'm not going to pretend this is a good movie. Its 91 percent RT score is sort of rude to other, better movies. Still, I'm recommending it here because it's well-worth a hangover watch. Pour yourself a mimosa and cuddle up to the adorable chemistry of Lea Thompson's daughter and the second coming of Ferris Bueller's friend Cameron.
It's a tale as old as time: two ambitious workplace rivals come together to set up their bosses in the hopes of gaining a little more free time. Never mind that the managers (played horrifically by Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu, who does her best with the bad material) are annoying and frankly kind of of obnoxious to watch. Just check Instagram while they're on screen. The true magic lies in the charisma of the leads.
Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch will be everywhere in the next few years, and it's cool to watch them stumble through an otherwise middling movie. They start, of course, as enemies, but by the end, you're shipping it hard. People really loved Someone Great and Always Be My Maybe, but for my Netflix subscription money (free! Honestly, who pays for Netflix in 2019?), this rom-com is more my speed.
Here are some quick anti-recommendations for those of you trying to weed through the garbage:
Long Shot - God, I hated this movie. Maybe because I wanted to love it. The leads have no chemistry, the writing is bad, and the tone is super strange. Seth Rogen wears that dumb jacket the entire movie for no real reason. Yo Seth, let your wife write your next rom-com! (Everyone go watch For a Good Time, Call right this instant!)
Falling Inn Love - Christina Milian is adorable, but she can't save this boring, dumb movie. This new trend of Hallmark/Lifetime-style romance is tricky, but the best ones lean into the so-bad-it's-good vibe. This one is just stupid.